The third chairman appointed to the independent inquiry into historic child sex abuse claims, who was on a salary of half a million pounds a year, has stepped down after revelations that she had spent the first three months on the job overseas or on holiday.
New Zealand High Court judge Lowell Goddard resigned “with immediate effect” just hours after revelations by The Times that she had spent the first three months on the job either on holiday or overseas, primarily in her home country, and had only had two meetings with inquiry officials.
However, Ms. Goddard blamed the magnitude of the inquiry and “its legacy of failure, which has been very hard to shake off”. She added: “With hindsight, it would have been better to have started completely afresh.”
She also said that it had been “incredibly difficult” for her to leave her family, despite her and her husband having four return flights plus two return flights for her family to New Zealand as part of her £500,000 a year salary package.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which approved Ms. Goddard’s appointment last year, said that he was astonished by her decision. “We will expect a full explanation from both the Prime Minister and the new Home Secretary,” he said.
The judge’s performance has also been heavily criticised after she appeared to struggle at a preliminary hearing. The Times reported that more than a year after it formally opened the inquiry has amassed millions of pages of documents but has yet to take any evidence from witnesses.
Two years ago then Home Secretary Theresa May announced the creation of Britain’s biggest child sex abuse inquiry after claims of an establishment cover-up over sex assaults, which centred on the recently deceased Lord Janner. The peer is alleged to have abused children over a period spanning more than 30 years and dating back to the 1950s.
But the enquiry is intended to go wider throughout Westminster and to cover a dozen institutions including schools, local authorities, and Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. The inquiry is to carry out 13 separate investigations, and is expected to take at least ten years to complete.
Ms. Goddard is the third appointment to the role, the previous two chairmen resigned amidst criticism for their links to the establishment. Baroness Butler-Sloss stepped down when it was revealed her brother had been Lord Chancellor during the period of investigation, and Fiona Woolf’s links with Lord Brittan – who is likely to be called to give evidence – also led to her resignation.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd stated: “I want to assure everyone with an interest in the inquiry, particularly victims and survivors, that the work of the inquiry will continue without delay and a new chair will be appointed.”
Phil Frampton, of the abuse survivors’ group Whiteflowers, said: “Goddard stepping down is another opportunity to finally get the child abuse inquiry on to the right track. She was the wrong choice from the beginning. She came from a judicial system in a country which is 20 years behind the UK.”